An exhilarating unsung movie (from 1995) -- a comic tear-jerker that's also a fable of regeneration, and a salute to people who find their own way in life. Based on Franz Lidz's wonderful 1991 memoir, it takes place in the early '60s, when the hero is 12 and 13. He grows disgruntled with his hyper-rationalist father (John Turturro), realizes his beloved mother (Andie MacDowell) is dying, and decides to live for a spell with his crazy uncles (Michael Richards and Maury Chaykin); under their magical influence, he changes his name, gets bar mitzvahed, and, somehow, survives. Director Diane Keaton and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese have tenderly fictionalized Lidz's book, concentrating its skittering details and contours into a scampish, funny-sad 93-minute spree. Richards and Chaykin are remarkable, Turturro and MacDowell take quantum leaps, and young Nathan Watt, as Franz, is a natural rubber-boned comedian. But Keaton isn't merely an "actors' director" -- she's an extravagantly gifted moviemaker who brings the nuances of domestic tragedy and renewal into rich, deep focus.
Unstrung Heroes screens at 1:50, 5:30, and 9:10 p.m. (with Marvin's Room at 3:40 and 7:20 p.m.) on Sunday, May 25, at the UC Theater, Shattuck and University in Berkeley. Tickets are $6.50; call (510) 843-6267.